Getting real about Islamism means getting like Israel
Jihadis do not mysteriously emerge from a culture free zone, only 'accidentally' parroting their religious credentials. They promote a violent, fascistic ideology which draws its energy from a reading of the verses and concepts of Islamic texts
Francois Hollande described Friday's massacre in Paris as an 'act of war'. He was right to do so. But this is not a new war declared upon us by our enemies. For these atrocities are merely the latest in a long line of mass casualty Islamist onslaughts against civilians.
The terror in Paris was preceded by the 9/11 attacks, the Bali bloodbath of 2002, the Madrid train bombings, the Beslan school killings, 7/7, the massacres of Al Shabaab and many thousands of smaller scale strikes across the world.
France alone has suffered several attacks in the last year, with satirists, atheists, Jews and revellers being targeted with venom. Israel is being attacked every day.
This is a decades long war perpetrated by radical Islam against all those with whom it disagrees, but principally the values of western civilisation itself. It is a battle that the West must fight, and win. But it is far from clear that this war is being fought as it should be.
Firstly, there has been a reluctance to identify the enemy that is stalking us. Within hours of the shootings, President Obama condemned an attack not just on Paris or France but on 'all of humanity' and the 'universal values we share'.
Nice words, but they hid a core truth. A specific and identifiable segment of humanity categorically rejects these universal values. Islamists, like those who carried out Friday's carnage, reject the ideas of liberal democracy, pluralism, sexual freedom, the rule of law, constitutional government, freedom of speech and religious tolerance. Why couldn't he say so?
Perhaps because, for so many years, he and other world leaders have been issuing the standard refrain that attacks like these have 'nothing to do with the religion of Islam.' A basically 'peaceful religion' has simply been 'hijacked' by a small band of deluded fanatics.
Dozens of times in the past, leaders from Bush and Obama to Cameron and Hollande (aided by figures in the media intelligentsia) have told us that the perpetrators of Islamist attacks are not even 'true Muslims'. Indeed, even references to 'Islamic state' have been condemned for inaccuracy.
Yet jihadis do not mysteriously emerge from a culture free zone, only 'accidentally' parroting their religious credentials. They promote a violent, fascistic ideology which draws its energy from a reading of the verses and concepts of Islamic texts. If it is deemed 'incorrect' theology, it is still their theology, and it must be taken seriously.
If it is not, then why focus on the preachers of hate whose insidious sermons fill impressionable minds full of hatred?
Failing to identify the enemy (or making absurd claims about the enemy) sows confusion in the public mind and widens the gulf between the political elite and an increasingly disbelieving public. It leads to pernicious charges of 'Islamophobia' and to various forms of self-censorship in public life.
Worse, the evasiveness about Islam makes it harder to discuss how that faith desperately needs religious reformation, a point that moderate Muslims are making all the time.
Secondly, the battle against jihadism has been compromised by a vicious and debilitating double standard -- concerning Israel. After all, the Jewish state has been suffering from a relentless wave of Islamist terror for many years. But instead of rallying behind the country, world powers, mostly in Europe, have turned against Israel with an almost unmatched venom.
How often have we heard condemnations of the Jewish state for its 'disproportionate' behaviour? How often has moral equivalence been drawn between Israeli counter terrorism and the murderous actions of Fatah and Hamas? How numerous have been the calls for Israeli restraint, even as bloody mayhem is wreaked on Israeli civilians?
When the West can undermine a nation that finds itself on the front line against jihad, it gives succour to the terrorists. They can seize upon Israel/Palestine as a core grievance, knowing they will find sympathy within the West.
Instead of alienating the Israelis, Europeans must learn from and utilise their long standing expertise in counter terrorism. They must welcome Israel's robust approach to terror, not seek to delegitimise it. They must publicly declare Israel as an ally against radical Islam, not see it as a liability that enables it. But right now, that basic connection is not being made, at least in public.
Thirdly, the West has long needed an effective military response to the problem of ISIL. But the military war against them has scarcely been effective. In 2014, the President promised to train 5,000 US backed fighters who would target the jihadis, with Congress approving a $500 million budget. A little later, according to Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, the number of available fighters was a mere 60, and it has since dwindled further.
Air strikes have been used to attack ISIL but these have merely contained the terrorists, to use Obama's favourite phrase. In the absence of a co-ordinated western response, it is the Russians who have seized the initiative in Syria, and only to defend Assad.
What the massacres in Paris and the downing of a Russian plane really require is a crushing response. Put simply, the best tribute we can pay to the murdered Parisians, as well as to the other victims of ISIL, is to extinguish that group from the Middle East entirely. That will mean committing troops to the ground rather than relying on air strikes.
It would be perfectly justified to trigger a NATO response under article 5 (an armed attack against one is an attack on all), as happened in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The combined forces at NATO's disposal are truly formidable and, used appropriately, would quickly overwhelm ISIL's manpower. The Kurds too could be given greater military resources to aid their own fightback.
Furthermore, there is no justification for denying the security services (which should surely be expanded) enhanced powers of surveillance in dealing with the homegrown jihadi threat, naturally with appropriate judicial safeguards.
Islamists who have returned home from Syria could face internment or other punitive measures while new border arrangements can be put in place. Human intelligence is desperately needed to penetrate radicalised Islamist extremists, both among France's Muslim community, and in other countries. With the terror threat so critical, Israeli style security measures could be employed in many of our public spaces.
Such military and political responses would be just and fitting, as well as necessary. But there is the legacy of the Iraq war to contend with, as well as a sense of military exhaustion in the West and Obama's commitment to non-intervention. Nor can we ignore the rather vocal power of a left-liberal intelligentsia and human rights industry. They will seek to stymie the measures mentioned above.
Many are already saying that Paris is a turning point, that this latest atrocity will lead to a radically changed approach to confronting global jihadist terror. It is far from clear that it will.
Jeremy Havardi is a journalist and the author of two books, Falling to Pieces, and The Greatest Briton
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